“Show yourself in all respects a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, gravity, and sound speech that cannot be censured.” (Titus 2:7-8)
Teaching stories create an experience that can transform an audience. As a form of story telling they show how a change in behavior, perspective, or skills can lead to meaningful results. Good homilies often feature teaching stories, but you can use them to do more than illustrate ways of bringing the gospel to life. For example, you can use them to help your congregation understand the change from a dues-based membership to tithing, or the move away from older discredited practices to more theologically-aligned ones. Consider searching out a story that illustrates those ideas in action, a story that doesn’t talk down to your audience but inspires them to think, and calls to their minds not so much what you want them to do but how or why you want it done.
Consider the example of a master of didactic storytelling, Plato. One of his famous allegories, apart from The Cave, is known as The Ship of Fools, found in The Republic, Book 6. The story depicts a captain-less vessel which finds itself led by a motley crew, whose members are either deranged, frivolous, or oblivious. All of them are ignorant of where they should be going. They completely disregard their actual navigator, who is diffident but understands the seas, the stars, the wind, and how to chart a course, with the result that the ship founders. As Levi Asher of the Literary Kicks blog points out,
As a teaching story… [it] introduces a lack of clarity just where it is needed. Our tendency to try to create teaching that is clear creates an unintended consequence of over-simplification. When someone understands what you want them to do, but doesn’t buy into why you want them to do it, you will never be satisfied with their performance. Clarity is over-rated in teaching. Story allows you to re-introduce complexity over tidy “skill-set modules” so that the skills you teach also teach people to think about why and how they might use a new skill. Plato’s story blends a teaching story, “how I’d like you to think” with a values story “what I’d like you to think about.”
Christ’s parables often work the same way. Much of their effectiveness comes from his use of ambiguity that forces his adherents to work to seek out the stories’ depth of meaning.
As a final thought, consider an Orthodox prayer of stewardship, and note how it brings life and depth to its petitions by using teaching stories for each of them:
O Lord Jesus Christ, You are the good steward, who redeemed Adam and Eve of their failed stewardship by offering Yourself for the life of the world. You taught us in the feeding of the multitudes that whatever we give to God is returned to us multiplied. You praised those good and faithful servants in the parable of the talents who returned to the Master their gifts. So help us to learn the joy of stewardship, remembering that everything we have comes from You and belongs to You. We know, Lord, that we often live in fear of the future and insecurity. Help us to remember the lilies of the field and so to trust in Your providence. Grant to us a cheerful and generous spirit. Enkindle in the hearts of all Your people a zealous love for You. For You are the Good Steward, and to You we give thanks, praise and glory, together with Your Father who is from everlasting and Your all holy good and life-giving Spirit now and ever and onto the ages of ages. Amen.
Storytelling for Church Leaders sources
- Asher, Levi, “Ship of Fools, the Enduring Metaphor” on com (http://www.litkicks.com/ShipOfFools)
- Blunt, Ray: “Leaders and Stories: Growing the Next Generation, Conveying Values, and Shaping Character,” on Org (http://govleaders.org/stories.htm)
- Cavanaugh-Simmons, Christine, “Self-authoring the Who I Am Story” (http://ccs-consultinginc.com/who-am-i/self-authoring-the-who-am-i-story/)
- Green, Melanie C.: “Storytelling in Teaching,” in Observer: Journal of the Association for Psychological Science, April 2004, Volume 17, Number 4 (http://mina.education.ucsb.edu/webdata/instruction/hss/Story_Telling/Story_in_Teaching.pdf)
- Hopko, Fr Thomas, “Speaking the Truth in Love: Compelling Commentary on Christian Belief and Behavior.” Podcast for Ancient Faith Radio (http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/bishops_part_1_prophetic_priestly_and_pastoral)
- Jackson, Keith: “Business Storytelling: Using Stories to Inspire,” on com http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/BusinessStoryTelling.htm
- Linden, Russ: “Story Power,” on Governing: The States and Localities (http://www.governing.com/columns/mgmt-insights/Story-Power.html)
- Llopis, Glenn: “Hidden Agendas Disrupt Business Growth and Leadership,” on com (http://www.forbes.com/sites/glennllopis/2011/11/07/objectives-define-intentions-why-leaders-must-reveal-their-hidden-agendas/)
- Ramsdell, Catherine: “Storytelling, Narration, and the ‘Who I Am’ Story,” on WritingSpaces.com http://writingspaces.org/sites/default/files/ramsdell–storytelling-narration.pdf
- Schwabel, Dan: “How to Use Storytelling as a Leadership Tool,” on Forbes.com (http://www.forbes.com/sites/danschawbel/2012/08/13/how-to-use-storytelling-as-a-leadership-tool/)
- Simmons, Annette: “The Six Stories You Need to Know How to Tell,” on com (http://annettesimmons.com/wp-content/files_mf/1294790921StoryFactorChap1.pdf)
- Stevenson, Doug: “Storytelling – A Leadership Development Tool,” on Story Theater International ( http://storytelling-in-business.com/files/Storytelling-leadership-development-tool.pdf)
- TeachThought: We Grow Teachers on com http://www.teachthought.com/pedagogy/30-storytelling-tips-for-teachers/
- Thompson, Jessica: “Manipulation techniques used by manipulative people” on JessicaThompsonWrites.com (http://jessicathompsonwrites.com/manipulation-techniques-used-manipulative-people/)
- Zax, David: “6 Rules for Great Storytelling, From A Moth-Approved Master of the Form” on com (http://www.fastcompany.com/3052152/how-i-get-it-done/6-rules-for-great-storytelling-from-a-moth-approved-master-of-the-form?cid=ps002rosnr)